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The Muslim Ban: A Family Separation Policy

Numbers from the State Department show the human cost of the ban.

June 26, 2019

Just shy of the one year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s June 2018 decision allow­ing the Trump admin­is­tra­tion to fully imple­ment the Muslim ban for the fore­see­able future, the State Depart­ment published a report show­ing the ban’s devast­at­ing impact on Amer­ican famil­ies. The admin­is­tra­tion isn’t just separ­at­ing famil­ies at the south­ern border, but also through its actions in coun­tries over­seas, where offi­cials imple­ment­ing the Muslim ban are barring people from being with their loved ones in the United States.  

Imagine being married or engaged to someone and not being able to live with them because your govern­ment, without any proof, has claimed that letting people into the United States from your part­ner’s coun­try would harm national secur­ity. That’s the situ­ation for at least 3,882 people, accord­ing to the State Depart­ment. The ban has also kept at least 1,545 chil­dren from their Amer­ican parents and 3,460 parents from their Amer­ican sons and daugh­ters.

These numbers count only people barred solely because of the Muslim ban, mean­ing that they would have other­wise received a visa. They metic­u­lously docu­mented their links to Amer­ican relat­ives, submit­ted to inter­views and medical exam­in­a­tions that they passed, and went through one of the world’s most rigor­ous visa vetting systems, which incor­por­ates a range of national secur­ity checks.

Over­all, at least 42,650 people — includ­ing students, parents, siblings, tour­ists, chil­dren, and busi­nesspeople — have been barred from the United States because of their coun­try of origin, rather than any warn­ing signs in their files. Compared to the four years preced­ing the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, visa issu­ance rates have plummeted from the coun­tries affected by the Muslim ban. For example, we estim­ate that the number of perman­ent visas gran­ted for Amer­ic­ans’ imme­di­ate relat­ives have fallen from about 50 percent to 80 percent in the targeted coun­tries. And these numbers don’t tell the whole story — many more are discour­aged from even apply­ing, due to razor-thin chances of approval. 

Almost every­one who wishes to travel to the United States from the Muslim ban coun­tries can only do so if they get a waiver by show­ing that they would exper­i­ence an “undue hard­ship” if they don’t receive a visa, that they are not a threat to national secur­ity, and that their entry would be in the U.S. “national interest.” (A small number of people are excep­ted from the ban — for example, if they are dual citizens of a non-banned coun­try.)

The Trump admin­is­tra­tion has claimed that the waiver process ensures that the ban is flex­ibly and humanely applied. But this is soph­istry. Accord­ing to the State Depart­ment’s own calcu­la­tions, it is grant­ing waivers to people who have applied for visas at the paltry rate of 5 percent. Less than 30 percent of chil­dren of U.S. citizens received waivers. Only 13 percent of spouses of U.S. citizens received waivers. Does the Trump admin­is­tra­tion believe that people being torn from their famil­ies are not exper­i­en­cing an “undue hard­ship,” or maybe that the chil­dren some­how present a national secur­ity risk? We don’t have much clar­ity into how these decisions are actu­ally made, but the little that we do know suggests that the admin­is­tra­tion is not even consist­ently apply­ing the rigor­ous stand­ards it has formu­lated.

Consider that Shaima Swileh, a Yemeni mother barred from visit­ing her dying two-year-old son, only received a waiver after media reports told her story and the admin­is­tra­tion was pres­sured to issue one. It’s far from surpris­ing that U.S. consu­lar officers have said in sworn state­ments that the waiver process is “window dress­ing” to disguise discrim­in­a­tion.

While the Muslim ban may have receded from public view, the thou­sands of Amer­ic­ans who are being kept from their famil­ies live with it every day, and these numbers will continue to grow as it remains in effect. That’s why the Bren­nan Center and other groups are continu­ing to fight in court. In May, our lawsuit chal­len­ging the ban on the grounds that it was driven by anti-Muslim preju­dice was allowed to proceed. In Cali­for­nia, a case filed by Muslim Advoc­ates and others chal­len­ging the waiver process as a sham is also moving forward, with a federal judge order­ing the govern­ment to explain more about how it decides on waivers. A quicker fix is avail­able too: Congress can act by passing the NO BAN Act, which would repeal the Muslim ban and make it harder for pres­id­ents to enact such discrim­in­at­ory policies in the future.

Reli­gious free­dom and equal­ity are two of Amer­ica’s core found­a­tional prin­ciples. The Muslim ban under­mines these values with each addi­tional day it is oper­a­tional.

(Image: Mark Wilson/Getty)